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Greetings from Jérémie.  As some of you know, Cherlie and I were supposed to be in the US right now, travelling to NY/NJ to visit with family and churches, Milwaukee for a board meeting, Louisville for a medical missions conference and back home before Thanksgiving.  Then, Hurricane Matthew came along and changed our lives forever and our plans immediately.  We decided to stay here in Haiti in order to keep our clinic open and to serve as a bit of hope in the midst of despair.

Cherlie and I re- opened the clinic on Monday, October 17th and our patients have been grateful to see us.  Many of them are coming for medication refills, some have fevers and some are recovering from injuries sustained during the hurricane.  All of them have lost their houses and many of their possessions.  But, most of them somehow held onto their clinic receipt so we can look up their clinic record!  Amazing with all the water around that their receipts are intact (many of them were kept in a plastic medication bag, so they were protected from the water).

Nurse Vetelie Charles does some patient teaching at the start of our first day back in clinic.

Nurse Vetelie Charles does some patient teaching at the start of our first day back in clinic.

 

As we go up and down the mountain, we see signs of re-building, albeit not always polished.  Some people have collected tin that came off of other roofs and have put it on their house.  Others have built both walls and roof out of tin scraps.  In fact, people frequently recount how many people with thatched roof houses now have tin roofs!  Others have repaired part of their roof with tin scraps and used a tarp to cover the rest.  And, others have used the bark of fallen coconut trees to construct a new, little house until they can repair their old one.

Tin scraps cover a house that lost its roof

Tin scraps cover a house that lost its roof

 

Trees are starting to get new leaves, corn stalks are standing up, banana trees have sprouted new growth and the hills are greening up.  No longer is there that “scorched earth” look to the hills and valleys.  The worst is over, better days are to come.

CATCHING UP

We always like to acknowledge our visitors and didn’t have time to write a blog about our last visitors before the hurricane.  I wrote and told them that they were the last ones to see Jérémie as it was, not as it is now!  In September we had a wonderful team from Avera in South Dakota spend a week with us.  The team consisted of team leader and nurse Kathy English, nurse practitioners Theresa Hansen and Greta Martin, respiratory therapist Sharon Haverty, ultrasound technicians Paige Paquette and Aimee Hardy, ER nurse Karen Heideman, ER tech and pre-med student Dylan Goehner and technician Nicholas Romereim.  They helped with patient consultations, brought us an oxygen concentrator and taught us how to use it, taught Cherlie and me to do ultrasounds, painted, sanded and packed lots of medications.  We appreciated their help and their service to us and to our patients.  Thanks Avera Team!

Cherlie helps visiting RN Karen start an IV on a dehydrated patient

Cherlie helps visiting RN Karen start an IV on a dehydrated patient

 

Sharon and Kathy stand beside the oxygen concentrator the team brought down in their luggage!

Sharon and Kathy stand beside the oxygen concentrator the team brought down in their luggage!

 

Nicholas (L) and Dylan (R) paint a door for the pharmacy building

Nicholas (L) and Dylan (R) paint a door for the pharmacy building

 

Nurse Practitioner Theresa in her consultation room

Nurse Practitioner Theresa in her consultation room

 

Cherlie with her ultrasound teachers Paige (L) and Aimee (R)

Cherlie with her ultrasound teachers Paige (L) and Aimee (R)

 

Nurse practitioner Greta Martin helping out with Pap smear exams

Nurse practitioner Greta Martin helping out with Pap smear exams

 

The whole Avera team outside the clinic

The whole Avera team outside the clinic

 

For many years, Avera has been providing funds to build houses for rural Haitians such as those who live near our clinic.  While the team was here, we took them to see the home of a woman who has helped us out with light yard work since we first started our clinic ten years ago.  Marie has raised three sons on her own and they live a short distance down the hill from the clinic.  While they were visiting in September, the team went to see Marie and her home:

Avera team going to visit Marie’s home in September

Avera team going to visit Marie’s home in September

Unfortunately, Marie’s house was one of the thousands that were destroyed by the recent hurricane.  We think Marie and her family need some of those rebuilding funds soon!

Marie stands in front of what’s left of her home after Hurricane Matthew

Marie stands in front of what’s left of her home after Hurricane Matthew

 

THE VALUE OF POSSESSIONS

A few months ago an elderly man came to the clinic for consultation.  When he came into my consultation room, he carefully placed his satchel on the floor beside his chair.  Then, he covered it with an object that caught my attention because I couldn’t, in a brief glance, figure out what it was.  I took a history from him, trying to concentrate when my attention was really on the “object”.  I didn’t want to stare at it and make him feel uncomfortable but I had to figure out what it was!  I found my chance as I got up to listen to his heart and lungs.  He dutifully took deep breaths in and out and I was able to look straight down onto the object of my curiosity and, thus, solve my puzzle.  Here, draped across his old fabric satchel was a threadbare worn out towel.  The fabric had become so thin from use that it was difficult to tell that one day it had been made of terrycloth.  My patient now obviously carried it to wipe his sweaty brow as he walked along the mountain paths from his home.

One’s natural inclination would be to replace the old towel with a brand new one, presented to the patient in a grand manner, as evidence of our wonderful generosity.  But, looking at the towel carefully draped over the satchel, I began to think.  “How many brows has that towel wiped,” I thought.  “How many tears have been shed into its worn fabric?  How many gallons of bathing water has it absorbed for its owner and how many visitors has it served in his small, simple rural house.

I didn’t say anything about the towel that day.  Some time, when the time is right, I’ll offer him a replacement.

The object of my curiosity

The object of my curiosity

 

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By Executive Director Catherine E. Wolf, MD MPH

I finally have a slow but present internet connection so I can give you a personal update with regard to our situation here in Jérémie, Haiti.  As you’ve seen on the news and read on our website, Hurricane Matthew was a devastating storm with widespread destruction and Jérémie sustained the brunt of it.  We were without cell phone contact from early morning on Tuesday, October 4th, until Friday evening, October 7th.  Internet was down entirely until late last week.  We are grateful for all the prayers, emails, phone calls and concern that has been shown to us and to our staff here in Haiti as well as the people in the communities we serve.  We praise the Lord that all of our staff are safe, although several of them lost their homes.  Let me update you regarding our present situation and share some reflections about the tragedy and what it means for the future.

  • Our house in Jérémie was entirely flooded due to water coming under the windows, but we’re fortunate that no windows or doors were broken. We lost our solar panels, so we go without electricity except for a few hours in the evening when we use our backup generator or inverter and batteries.  Our water drums on the roof blew off and most of the plumbing pipes were broken, so we’re in the process of replacing them.  In the meantime, we have water in a cistern and are using buckets of water for bathing.  All the wet boxes have been cleaned up and the house is getting back to normal.  Our driveway, which was entirely filled with fallen coconut trees, finally got cleared last weekend and our yard helpers are cutting up fallen branches and clearing the debris.  A few flowers actually survived the storm!
  • The clinic was flooded also as many of our new, wooden windows broke in the strong winds and fell off. The room that had the most damage was the pharmacy, where bags of pre-packaged medications were blown onto the flooded floor and medication bins were blown off the shelves.  Cherlie and I spent three days last week up at the clinic cleaning things up and re-organizing the pharmacy.  We had to wash and re-package hundreds of medication bags in order to re-stock the shelves.  Some medications were lost entirely when water seeped into the plastic medication bags.  But the work is now done and we’re planning to re-open the clinic on Monday, October 17.
  • The drive up the mountain to Gatineau last Wednesday was a sobering one for Cherlie and me as we passed houses, churches and schools with varying degrees of missing roofs, broken walls and changed lives. Everyone we passed just shook their heads and shrugged their shoulders in resolute acceptance of the tragedy that God allowed to pass.  The Haitian fatalistic world view was evident in full force.  There was one thing that tied us all together, though.  As one person put it so simply, “Everyone got a piece of the cake.”  In other words, everyone was affected by the storm in some way.  Houses that weren’t destroyed were flooded, everyone’s crops were destroyed and livestock died, no matter who owned them.   As such, everyone has a burden to bear.  Many lives were lost, especially the elderly, some of whom were our patients.  For them we all grieve.  Many farmers who were up in the high mountains harvesting beans at the time of the storm perished, as their flimsy stick houses blew away, and steep mountainsides slid out from under them.  Our hearts ache for their families.  Some pieces of this cake were harder to swallow than others.
  • As we passed landmarks in town and along the road that are now changed, a landscape that will never be the same, lives that have been impacted forever, I realized once again how resilient and long-suffering are the Haitian people. When 2 rooms of their house fall down, they pack all 10 family members into the 2 rooms that are still covered.  When the whole house falls down, they put up tin walls and a coconut leaf roof and sleep inside.  When there’s no food for them to cook, they boil water and make sweet tea.  And, everywhere you look, you see smiles.  Smiles?  After a tragedy like this?  Yes, smiles because they’re alive.  And, that is cause to celebrate.  No attempts to blame anyone for anything, no analyzing to determine how the situation could have been handled differently, no moaning and groaning about lack of government services or safety net.  The Haitian safety net is the Lord and it’s obvious to all that He’s in control.
  • The last thing I want to share is the amazing rebirth that has already begun. Banana trees are starting to sprout from their cut-off trunks, leaves are starting to re-appear on the trees, grass is beginning to grow and wilted corn is beginning to stand up.  Things will never be the same, but the Lord and nature shows us that there is a future.  And, that’s what we are looking towards – rebuilding homes for people in the communities we serve, replenishing livestock, re-planting gardens and fields.  This is what you and we together can do for the Haitian people that we serve through our clinic.  Relief agencies are at work trying, in spite of security obstacles, to distribute tarps and food supplies and we are helping when we can obtain supplies from these larger organizations.  But, our focus is on the future, when the “big guns” have left and our people are hungry and in need of permanent housing.   We’ll be there for them, to help them rebuild their homes and their lives, to help them improve their health and to comfort their aching hearts.  We’ll be there with them, working alongside them, caring for them.  We hope that you’ll be there right beside us!

 

Photo by Associated Press.  Saint Anne church lays totally destroyed by Hurricane Matthew in Camp Perrin. Thursday, Oct. 6, 2016.

Photo by Associated Press. Saint Anne church lays totally destroyed by Hurricane Matthew in Camp Perrin. Thursday, Oct. 6, 2016.

By now, we’ve all heard of the catastrophe caused by Hurricane Matthew in the Caribbean and within our borders. News channels have been documenting how Hurricane Matthew has destroyed communities of people, now surviving on the mercy of others. As a Haitian living in the United States, I sat in the comfort of my home and watched as the people of southern Haiti lost everything overnight.

I don’t know if any of us that have not been through it will ever understand how it feels to lose EVERYTHING in a matter of hours. Picture after picture of families you know, places you’ve lived, monuments that brought pride to its people, now gone. Trees that once provided food, ripped straight from the ground, roofs of homes that served as humble shelters lifted by Matthew’s ferocious winds, and the PAIN on the faces of the thousands of people. It is simply unbearable.

Approximately 80% of the people of Jérémie, Haiti are now homeless and with the loss of crops and livestock, the number of those in HUNGER from the lack of food will soon be incomprehensible.

I believe that there is a divine reason for everything, and I also believe that when we as people work together, we can move mountains. The devastation caused by Hurricane Matthew, although a large mountain, can be moved if we work together.

The first thing you can do is to make a donation to Friends for Health in Haiti’s Hurricane Matthew Relief Fund. We have people on the ground in Haiti who will ensure that 100% of your donation gets to the people who need it most.  I choose to believe that this mountain of pain and despair caused by Hurricane Matthew can be moved, if we lock arms and work together in rebuilding Jérémie and ultimately the lives of its people.

FHH and I are asking you to lock arms with us, by making a donation today to the Hurricane Matthew Relief Fund.

Together we are strong!
Judith Romelus
Director of Development

Now that regular communication with Dr. Wolf has been restored, we are learning of the full extent of the devastation from Hurricane Matthew and what assistance is most needed. Dr. Wolf explained that better than 95% of homes between Jérémie and Gatineau had tin roofs. Virtually all of those roofs were blown off and any household belongs within were largely destroyed by the ferocious wind and torrential rain. In many cases, the walls of the homes then collapsed as well. Thousands of people are now without shelter. In Gatineau, hundreds had gathered on the porch of our clinic to take shelter during the storm and have remained there since, their homes now gone.

The primary immediate needs are for temporary shelter and food. We are looking to procure large durable tarps to serve as temporary roofing for the homes that are still standing. Because we need these urgently, Dr. Wolf plans to make a trip into Port au Prince to procure tarps and supplies there. Any donations received here will go directly and completely to this effort. For those concerned about how their donation will be used, rest assured that 100% will go to helping the people affected by the hurricane. Any overhead costs for our organization have already been funded by our regular donors, so please don’t be held back by the fear that your money will not be well spent. If you want more information about that, please reach out to us and we can provide you with the details.  Click here to donate now!

We will also be looking to partner with other well established relief distribution organizations to help us get supplies from the U.S. shipped quickly to Haiti. We then hope to facilitate the local distribution of these supplies in and around Jérémie and the clinic to prevent that from becoming a corrupted process. Since Dr. Wolf and Cherlie have lived there for many years and we have a network of local community members we already employ, we are fortunate to have the network to get the supplies delivered securely to those in need. As is often the case, a key concern is rampant looting. While people have fled their destroyed homes, others are looting them and taking anything of value that remains. So reestablishing these homes quickly as safe shelter is critical to prevent the theft of what little they still have.

There is more to come, but for now please know that we are already taking action on the ground in Haiti to help those in need. With Dr. Wolf now able to communicate regularly, we will be posting frequent updates on the needs and our progress in delivering aid. Praise be to God for bringing good people together to help those in need.

 

This will be a brief update because, like so many of you, we are still awaiting news of Dr. Wolf and Cherlie.  We have spoken with contacts in Port au Prince but none of them have been able to reach those in Jérémie as of yet.  It is common after major storms for the communications to be down for up to a couple of days.  Hopefully they will be restored soon.  All we know at this point is that Jérémie was hit very hard and is dealing with severe flooding, many destroyed homes and damage to a key bridge, though we don’t know if or how that is affecting travel to and from Jérémie.  We will update this page and our website if and when additional information becomes available.  Your continued thoughts and prayers are greatly appreciated.

We received news this morning from Cherlie’s sister Yasmine who spoke with her earlier. As of 5:50 AM, Dr. Wolf and Cherlie are safe but they are without electricity and have been up most of the night battling flooding in their home due to the high winds and rain. We have no details about damage in the area or across Haiti at this time. Winds and rain are near their peak with wind speeds of 140 mph and gusting over 160. The next several hours are expected to be the most ferocious period. The path of the storm did cross almost directly over Jérémie, Haiti where they live and the massive storm is now centered just east of them as it continues to move slowly north. For further updates and information, check back here, our Facebook page, or on our website at www.friendsforhealthinhaiti.org.

As many of you may know, we are in the middle of a 3-year project to improve and pave the road between Cayes, on the southern coast and Jérémie, on the northern coast of the southern peninsula of Haiti.  We’ve traveled on the “new” road several times in the past few months and each time has ended up being quite an adventure, due to the varying state of repair of the road as the crews work on it.  In early December, on our way home from Port-au-Prince, we were held up for 4 hours (2:30pm until 6:30pm) while the bulldozers blocked a portion of the road to work on it.  Then, at 10pm that same evening, as we were about 2 hours from Jérémie, we were blocked again by a broken down truck that was stuck in the mud in a very narrow portion of the road.  No one was working on the truck and it was evident to us that we were going nowhere fast!  We ended up spending the night in the jeep and got home to Jérémie around noon the next day.

Well, this past weekend, we decided to drive into Port-au-Prince to take care of some business and it ended up being another road adventure.  We left home around 5:15am on Friday with a light rain falling.  By the time we got to the outskirts of town, along the ocean, it had turned into a downpour.  At 6am, we came to a section of the road where there was no road!  The rain had washed out the flimsy bridge built over cement culverts that was serving as a temporary structure until a large cement bridge was built over a small river.  Rather than turn around and call it quits, we decided to stay to watch the action (remember, we don’t have TV in Haiti, so we have to get our drama from real events as they unfold!).  First, a motorcycle came by with a member of the Brazilian road crew.  Then, pick-up trucks began to appear.  One by one, the Brazilian engineers showed up, surveyed the situation and sped off again in their trucks.  Then, a busload of Haitian road crew workers arrived.  They walked around in the rain, talking and pointing and discussing.  Finally, by 9:30am, the bulldozers and dump trucks showed up and the crews began to pile rocks and gravel into the flat area where the river met the ocean.  After several truckloads, the bulldozer went to work, moving the rocks and gravel around to cover the riverbed.  Then, came the road grader to smooth it out; then, more truckloads, more re-arranging and more smoothing.  By noon, the engineers were ready to let some of the vehicles pass through.  There were about 25 trucks, cars and jeeps lined up waiting.  The first two jeeps went through without problem.  Then, a little Suzuki jeep got stuck, as the river water began to pour over the temporary road.  So, the road crew fastened a chain to the bulldozer and towed the jeep up the riverbank to the other side.  More jeeps and several pick-up trucks went through and then it was our turn.  We had no problem getting through the water, sand and gravel with our new 4-wheel drive jeep, and off we went on our way – or so we thought.

Two hours later, we came to the same area of the road where we had been stopped before, and there before us was another roadblock.  The bulldozers were at work again and we were told that the road would be blocked until 6pm.  So, we waited, talked with people in other vehicles and watched the heavy equipment operators push rocks and dirt over the side of the mountain.  Finally, at 5pm, we got word that jeeps were able to pass through an area higher up the mountainside, where one set of bulldozers was working.  It would be a challenge, though, since the route was steep and the footing was unstable due to the recent work being done on it.  We decided to take a chance, and followed two other jeeps up the steep slope and down the other side.  We ended up being in a rapidly moving convoy of 5 vehicles, all headed to Cayes, which we reached in record time.  We stopped to see a Haitian friend outside Cayes, had a late meal with her family and made it to Port-au-Prince by 11pm.  It was, indeed, a long, but adventuresome day!

Events in the country have been adventuresome lately, as well, with the uncertainty of the November presidential elections, the continued presence of cholera and, more recently the appearance of former President-For-Life Jean Claude Duvalier.  We are uncertain as to what will transpire in the next few weeks and months on the political front, making it very difficult to plan our activities and those of expected visitors.  There have been some demonstrations and tire burning in the streets of Jérémie, as well as Port-au-Prince, but these have fortunately been short-lived.  On the health front, several cholera centers have been set up in the town of Jérémie, and in villages not far from our clinic site.  The number of cholera cases seems to be diminishing, but we are continuing our educational messages regarding prevention, since the basic principles of good hygiene are important for all to learn.

While we were struggling on the road to Port-au-Prince this past weekend, the heavy rains caused a mudslide in Jérémie with destruction of a house and the death of 7 inhabitants.  It also caused significant erosion of hillsides and destruction of portions of the road up to our clinic site in Gatineau.  In one area, the hillside completely broke away, leaving only a very narrow section of road over which to drive.  If it breaks away any further, we will be stranded on one side or the other and will be unable to pass through to go back and forth to our clinic.  We’re hoping the government will authorize repair of the road soon, so that our clinic operations can continue without interruption.  Please continue to pray for the safety of all.

We were able to drive up to our clinic on Tuesday this week, finding the road very slippery and gutted out, but passable.  We had to put our jeep into 4-wheel drive “low” position, that gives the most power, so we could make it up some of the steep, slippery hills.  Our patients were grateful for our presence and we expect a large crowd on Thursday as well.  They walk for hours on very slippery, muddy paths to reach us, and we’re glad to be able to help meet their health needs.

Major losses from the hurricane in our area are mostly agricultural, with the loss of banana trees, coconuts and recently planted bean seeds.  One of the nearby Protestant churches had significant damage, as well as the pastor’s house, and some schools had damage to their roofs.  We’re working with local leaders to assess the extent of damage in the areas around our clinic site and will see how we can most help these communities.

At this point, the road between Cayes and Jérémie is closed to all traffic due to mudslides in the area around Beaumont.  We’ve seen the Port-au-Prince buses sitting in their stations in Jérémie for the past few days and now have an explanation as to why!

As I write this blog (2:00pm CT on Friday, November 5th), the worst of Hurricane Tomas seems to be over. Warnings about the storm had been disseminated throughout the country all week and we watched the storm’s path on the internet several times a day.  Around midnight last night, heavy rains and fierce winds began, bending the coconut trees and snapping off branches of other, less flexible trees. Porch chairs were blown
over and the rain struck the house from all directions. From 6:00 – 8:00am, there was a bit of a lull, with calming of the winds and very little rain. But, then it began again with a vengeance, the wind knocking down most of the banana trees in the yard and the rains battering our closed windows. Here are some scenes from our house:

The latest news from Port-au-Prince is that it is raining heavily there also, with strong winds and areas of flooding. We are uncertain as to whether any of the tent camps have been flooded, as was feared. We are grateful that the storm did not hit the main part of the country directly, although it appears that there will be certain loss of crops, and possibly some lives as well. We expect to go up to our clinic on Monday and will assess the damage to the communities up there. We appreciate your prayers and your support as we seek to assist those in need here in Haiti.

Yesterday turned out to be a busy day for us. It rained during the night and was overcast in the morning, so we were undecided about whether to attempt the trip up the mountain to our clinic. After hearing from local people that the road was passable, we loaded the truck with our supplies and headed out, unsure as to what we would find on the way. There were several areas where the streams of water dug deep gullies in the road – a consequence of the lack of canalization when roads are built or improved. They look great in dry season, but become deep gullies filled with rocks and boulders after heavy rains. We encountered several of them on our way, but were able to get through them without undue difficulty. As we got closer to the clinic, our local friends called out enthusiastic greetings to us. They understood why we missed some clinic sessions due to the rain, but it was evident that they were glad to see us again!

When we pulled in the clinic driveway, there were 40 patients waiting for us, 2 of the more severely ill lying on the examination tables. We greeted them quickly, said a prayer and began to work. As is our custom, we saw the most severely ill patients first, especially the children with fevers. We try to diagnose them quickly so that we can give them medication to reduce the fever and start them on therapy as soon as possible. The other patients are very understanding of this – they know that we see the sickest first and when it’s their turn, they’re grateful. Over and over during the day we heard them say how much they appreciate our being there and how helpful it is to have medical care nearby. And, we heard from many of them that the reason they were there was because of positive feedback from neighbors or family members who had been to us and had successful treatment of their medical problems.

As we worked, it clouded up and began to rain. We held our breath, knowing that a heavy rain might leave us stranded up there for the evening, if the rivers overflowed their banks. But, we couldn’t walk out on the patients, in order to assure our own comfort. So, we kept working as the rain pounded on the roof, knowing that we had plenty of friends up there now who would give us a place to stay for the night, if needed. We were glad to be there as a group of people brought in a young man on a homemade stretcher. He had a high fever, probably from typhoid fever, and was too weak to walk. We gave him medication and watched him through the afternoon, making sure that he was better before we let him go home.

We finished up around 5pm, packed up our supplies and slipped and slid down the mountain and home. Fortunately, the streams didn’t overflow their banks and we made the trip without mishap, grateful that, once again, we were able to be of service to people truly in need. Now, we’ll wait for the next tropical storm to pass through our area! The radio has warned that it is due to pass through on Monday. We’ll keep you informed!

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